I own about 450 flies spread out over a dozen boxes or so. Dries, nymphs, streamers; crazy stuff I bought internationally—probably not going to use that 4” dragonfly from Argentina on a Catskills’ creek—but all have a reason and purpose.
Here’s the thing about my flies … I didn’t tie a single one.
“My hobby doesn’t need a hobby,” is my pat answer whenever someone asks if I tie. I usually get a quick laugh, but there’s a much deeper reason. I like fly shops. Especially older ones and the bullshit camaraderie and hard-to-find discontinued gear that comes along with them. I would never have found my go-to wading boot, the Weinbrenner Ultimate Wading Boot, covered in dust at the back of a shop in Roscoe, NY if I hadn’t stopped in to pick up some emergers.
More importantly, I tend to DIY when I travel to fish and therefore throw myself into the hands of (or at the mercy of) the local fly shop for the inside skinny on nearby water. Buying a dozen flies tied by people who fish the river every day seems like a pretty fair trade.
But occasionally there are flies that don’t come from a shop and just magically appear.
I was in Dunsmuir, CA, for the first time to fish the Upper Sacramento when I wandered into the Ted Faye Fly Shop and met its owner, Bob Grace. He nodded at me as I went over to check out the fly bins. I must have looked like I had no idea what I was doing, so he called out, “Try some ‘Little Black Shit.’ Alternatively, ‘Little Brown Shit’ will work as well.”
We got into a conversation about the relative merits of black versus brown and I left with a box of flies, a cool pair of sunglasses and a decent river map. The flies worked and I caught a few fish, but they were mostly accidents and I didn’t feel I was doing as well as I could. This was back in the day when I cared more about that kind of thing.
The Upper Sac is a high-sticking weighted-nymph river and none of that is my strong suit, so that night I went to a café in town for a legitimate catch of a burger and beer. The fellow at the next table was having dessert with his wife when I noticed the flies in his cap. I waited for an appropriate moment and asked if he fished. His wife gave me a pained smile then sat back knowing that she just lost her man for 20 minutes. Sorry, sister, but we all have our burdens to bear.
I pulled out my river map and he went over each named pool and run, pointing out his favourites and how to fish them. We got on the topic of flies and he agreed with Bob then added, “But you need the right Little Black Shit.”
My food arrived so I thanked them and turned to dinner. Long after they left, the waitress dropped off my bill with a small cup of 20 or so flies. The guy had gone to his car and kindly put together a selection for me. He had written “LBS” on the lid.
In my tent that night, I compared his flies to the shop flies. As I really couldn’t see any discernible difference and would probably need every fly I had if I was going to dredge the river bottom, I mixed them in the hope that right and a different kind of right would combine to form a super right.
In the morning, I fished along the tracks to Mossbrae Falls and the river exploded for me. I highsticked the pockets, dry droppered the runs, even bobbered the deeper pools and pulled fish from every spot that looked promising and a few that didn’t. The right day? Sure. The right flies? You bet.
There are too many factors that go into catching a trout and sometimes you can’t analyze them and it’s better to simply have faith. I trusted the flies and they delivered.
A box of flies labelled “LBS” now sits on my shelf. They even work on a Catskill creek when the Brook trout aren’t hitting the dragonfly.
Hexmeister replied on Permalink
Whenever someone asked John Voelker (a.k.a. Robert Traver) if he tied his own flies, he'd reply "Sir, I can hardly zip my own fly."
Eric replied on Permalink
After reading this, I was curious what a Little Black Shit looked like, but couldn't find any pictures or recipes. Is it top secret?
Jamie Peil replied on Permalink
David, thanks for the well written article. It was fun because it's a story with no super angler claims, just a story that we can all relate to, whether fly tyer or not.
David replied on Permalink
As I am not a "super angler" my articles are rarely about catching fish and I find trying to catch fish far more interesting. If cool with the editor to mention (if not, remove this), I have a piece in the latest FFJ about the unique way I tried to catch a fish in Iceland ... fish whispering. It worked.
Dave replied on Permalink
Fine, you don’t want to tie flies I get it, especially those little ones that don’t look like they could catch a guppy much less a 20” rainbow. The reasoning that you want to support your local fly shop is not a good argument. If you tied you would likely spend MORE time and MORE money in your local fly shop like the one you found those dusty boots. (Great name for a bar…). Ask anyone who ties who says they spend less rather than more because they tie. Sure when you travel you SHOULD buy local flies. It might be a new area and you likely did not bring the right fly tying gear anyway to tie the local flies. But flies here often catch fish there. Also the art of tying flies is not another hobby to fly fishing but another aspect of fly fishing. Once I started tying I learned so much about entomology and the hatches on my local waters. I think it has made me a better angler but time will tell. Again I’m not knocking buying pre-made flies. I did it for decades. It’s just some of the reasoning isn’t spot on. So like George Costanza might say… go buy your fancy flies!
DNM replied on Permalink
Hi Dave - thanks for the comment.
To be honest, there are a lot of aspects of fly fishing that I don't participate in. I barely throw streamers, don't euronymph, and have only taken two pics of caught trout - both at the insistence of the guide.
Fly tying for me is just something I'm not interested in. I have only so much space left in my brain and just don't have the bandwidth for a deep dive into something new. I also have failing eyesight, clumsy hands and little patience for finicky things.
I look at tying like I do wine. I like wine but know nothing about it, so I choose wine based on a venn diagram of: 1) price; 2) a type of wine I might have heard of; and 3) how cute the animal is on the label. Now, I appreciate that I may be missing out on something, but I'm okay with that. And fortunately, I have friends that give me great wines. And beautiful flies.
I get by.